Arizona Exodus: Three convenient travel destinations for students stuck in the Valley

Arizonans have a long and storied history of transience — coming and going as seasons change, as parents get jobs, as that sweet deal shows up on Kayak. 

Of course, one of our most time-honored traditions — besides hosting our weird out-of-state relatives during the winter months — is doing our best to get somewhere less desolate and mind-bogglingly hot in the summer. 

Unfortunately, as college students with busy schedules and fluctuating incomes, we are not as disposed to go long distances as our older and better-established compatriots. So, we assembled a list of five cooler locales still accessible for our availability-challenged readership. 

Flagstaff/Northern Arizona

During the winter, northern Arizona's biggest city is a popular destination for skiers, cabin dwellers and fans of all things both green and snowy. 

And during the summer, Flagstaff is an ideal, accessible getaway for the Phoenix faithful. Just two hours north on the I-17 and with temperatures that average more than 20 degrees lower than those in Phoenix, the city boasts forests, mountains, Lowell Observatory, where the not-planet Pluto was discovered, and ample cheap motels. 

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By Kevin Stanchfield | Flickr user Kevin Stanchfield

The Downtown Los Angeles skyline.

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By Alex Ander | Flickr user Alex Ander

The Downtown Denver skyline.

Moreover, it's nestled between two hiking destinations in Sedona and the Grand Canyon, both about an hour away and relatively temperate this time of year. If a longer trip is tolerable, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is cooler and significantly less busy than the South. 

Sedona has myriad trails of varying intensity, including Soldier Pass, which winds leisurely up the mountain and past a rather impressive sinkhole. If hiking isn't in the cards, the town of Sedona also has a selection of cafes and tchotchke shops that can provide a pleasant distraction. 

Flagstaff itself has a burgeoning culinary and cultural scene. The Museum of Northern Arizona has beautifully curated displays of the tribal, territorial and archaeological history of the region, as well as $8 admission for students. 

Macy's European Coffeehouse & Bakery offers coffee and delightful pastries in a very Flagstaff, ultra-granola environment. Those looking for something a little more elegant should look to Pizzeria Bianco-esque Pizzicletta, a minuscule pizzeria offering naturally leavened, wood-fired pizzas like the amore oi mari, with mascarpone and pecorino cheeses, San Daniele prosciutto, arugula and lemon olive oil. 

Denver

A good many feet higher and a couple hours north by plane, Denver is a great destination for Valley residents looking to escape Phoenix. 

The area is known for its scenic natural surroundings, but the city itself is vibrant and surprisingly metropolitan, as well as cooler than the area we call home. 

The downtown area boasts commerce and cultural centers in Larimer Square and the 16th Street Mall, which offer a combination of swanky shops, roaming young people, restaurants and cafes to create an atmosphere that feels like a combination of Old Town Scottsdale, Phoenix's Roosevelt Row and Tempe's Mill Avenue. 

The Market at Larimer Square offers coffee, pastries, beautiful cakes and hot meals, as well as a candy store's worth of confections and knick-knacks, serving as an ideal location to while the day away while taking whichever sort of meal is desired. 

The literati can take a brief stroll to the flagship location of the famous Tattered Cover bookstore, with its pleasant cafe, reading area and truly massive selection of books. The Denver cultural experience can be expanded at the small-but-dynamic Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and the much larger Denver Art Museum, while the scientifically minded can go east of downtown to the excellent Denver Museum of Nature and Science. 

Regardless, the city is pleasant, relatively inexpensive and has a robust public transit system — complete with a recently-opened light rail line to and from the airport. 

Los Angeles

It's not uncommon for Phoenicians to feel contempt for their city's older, somehow even more sprawling cousin six hours to the southwest. 

Admittedly, Los Angeles is huge and sun-bleached, with frequently intolerable traffic and constant bustle. 

But, the nation's oft-maligned second-largest city is also perhaps its greatest cultural center, and this time of year, it's about 20 degrees cooler, with a variety of breezy Pacific beaches with car's reach. 

And, from Koreatown to Watts, even some of the city's historically rougher neighborhoods have plenty of interesting offerings for those intrepid enough to find them. 

For example, outsider public art installation Watts Towers, a series of 17 sculptural towers created by an Italian tile mason over 33 years, the largest of which climbs to over 99 feet, demonstrate the unique character that makes LA worth visiting. 

In the Miracle Mile district, the 106-year-old Los Angeles County Museum of Art is a true institution, with over 150,000 works, including everything from ancient artifacts to contemporary video pieces. Ray's and Stark Bar, the museum's bar and restaurant, is among the best museum eateries out there, especially if the stupidly good Eggs Benedict burger is on the day's menu.

Altogether, if grimy, touristy areas like Hollywood and Venice Beach are avoided, the city is too multivariable to paint monolithically, and its myriad neighborhoods and cultural offerings are sure to please even the most vehemently anti-LA Phoenician. 


Reach the reporter at Arren.Kimbel-Sannit@asu.edu or follow @akimbelsannit on Twitter.

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